John Ross went from overlooked college deep threat to a top 10 pick at the 2017 NFL Draft thanks to a record-setting 40 time at the combine. Now, less than two years later, the Cincinnati Bengals are admitting some buyers remorse.
Two years ago, top WR prospect John Ross set fire to the Combine with his 40 time. Now, sources say the #Bengals are shopping their former first rounder. A fresh start would be welcome by both parties, sounds like.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 26, 2019
It’s coincidental timing for the club, who will be shopping Ross two years to the date of his star-making turn in Indianapolis. The Husky kick returner and wideout rose from potential Day 2 sleeper pick to first round fodder after running a 4.22-second 40-yard dash at the combine. That was enough to break Chris Johnson’s 2008 record and present scouts with enough potential to overlook his limited track record as a receiver — even though Ross managed to injure himself during the sprint.
It’s a disappointing twist for a Cincinnati team that hoped Ross would pair with A.J. Green to give its offense one of the league’s most devastating wideout tandems. Instead, the University of Washington product missed all but three games as a rookie due to a combination of knee and shoulder injuries. He wasn’t especially productive on the field either — he began his career by being named the club’s No. 6 wideout to start 2017, then finished the year with zero catches, one carry, and a 100 percent fumble rate on his rushes.
2018 was better, mostly because only an act of God could have made things worse. Ross dressed for 13 games and made 10 starts, but hauled in only 21 catches despite 58 targets. The burner drafted for his deep ball speed averaged only 10 yards per catch as a disheveled Bengals squad went 6-10, finally sinking low enough to fire long-tenured head coach Marvin Lewis.
New coach Zac Taylor may want a fresh start, but Ross’s value has never been lower
Ross is only two seasons removed from being a top 10 draft pick, but Cincinnati will have difficulty extracting anything near that kind of value for him. The record-setting speedster’s straight-line speed hasn’t been enough to cover up his flaws as a receiver. His routes are still sloppy, his hands are unimpressive, and nothing he’s shown over the first two years of his career suggest he can play a starring role on a contending team.
John Ross’s very bad 2018 in advanced stats
|Yards per target||3.6||last|
|Success rate on blitz downs||7%||last|
There were some mitigating factors behind that performance. The Bengals’ offensive line was ineffective up front, and Ross had to work with not only an oft-harassed Andy Dalton but also backup Jeff Driskel, who threw nearly one-third of the team’s passes after Dalton was lost for the season.
But those difficulties didn’t stop Tyler Boyd from emerging as a legitimate No. 2 alongside Green. Boyd, the team’s second round pick in 2016, had 76 catches and 1,028 receiving yards in 14 games to add a silver lining to Cincinnati’s storm cloud of a season. His emergence helps make Ross expendable — now the question is whether any team is willing to pay for a speedy wideout who was the league’s least productive regular receiver in his second year as a pro.
Where might Ross wind up?
The Eagles were linked to Ross during the pre-draft process and are in need of receiving help with Golden Tate set to become 2019’s top free agent WR. Adding the Bengal bust would give the team another speedy presence to bookend Nelson Agholor.
The 49ers were also linked to Ross during the 2017 Draft and need receivers, especially after declining Pierre Garcon’s option for the upcoming season. Giving Ross a second chance would give Jimmy Garoppolo another high-speed option alongside Marquise Goodwin as San Francisco attempts to jump start its rebuild.
The Patriots showed they’re willing to buy low on underwhelming former first-round wideouts after acquiring Phillip Dorsett from the Colts in exchange for Jacoby Brissett in 2017 and signing Corey Coleman to a practice squad deal last fall. Another low-impact deal would help replenish a receiver corps filled with pending free agents.
No matter where he lands, however, it’s extremely unlikely the Bengals will recoup anything close to a top 10 pick for his services.